Risk factors

A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of getting a certain condition or disease. Researchers know about some risk factors that increase the chance of developing cancer. However, for most children with cancer, the cause is unknown.

What we do know is that if a child develops cancer, it’s not because of something they, or their parents did to cause it. No one is to blame if a child develops cancer.

Even if your child has a risk factor, it doesn’t mean they will develop cancer. Many children with a risk factor will never develop cancer. Other children with cancer may have had no known risk factors. Even if a child with a risk factor develops cancer, the risk factor may not have had much to do with it.

Researchers don’t completely understand what causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma. However, some things are linked to a higher chance of getting non-Hodgkin lymphoma.


Genetic conditions

People with certain genetic conditions that affect the immune system have a higher chance of getting non-Hodgkin lymphoma. These conditions include:

  • Wiskott–Aldrich syndrome
  • severe combined immunodeficiency syndrome (SCID)
  • ataxia-telangiectasia
  • common variable immunodeficiency
  • Bloom syndrome
  • X-linked lymphoproliferative syndrome.

If your child has one of these genetic conditions, they will need specific care. Your health care team will talk to you about which ongoing tests your child will need.

Childhood cancers that are linked to genetic conditions may also affect the risk for other family members. You can ask your child's treatment team if you or your family should get genetic counselling.

To learn more about genetic conditions, see the children's cancer glossary or the Centre for Genetics Education.

Exposure to radiation

High doses of radiation can increase a child’s risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma. This includes children who were X-rayed before birth.

Children who have had radiation therapy (radiotherapy) to treat cancer also have a slightly higher chance of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma later in life.

Certain virus infections

People who have had an Epstein–Barr virus infection are more likely to develop Burkitt non-Hodgkin lymphoma, especially if they have a weakened immune system. Other names for the Epstein–Barr virus are glandular fever, infectious mononucleosis or 'mono'.

Children who have had an organ transplant and take medicines that weaken their immune system also have a higher risk.

People with HIV also have a higher chance of getting non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Other factors

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma affects more males than females.